Â On July 11, the Senate passed the Violent Crime Control Act of 1991, S.1241, by a vote of 71-26. The bill, which was offered by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), differs from the President's crime package (S.635) but still encompasses many of the same provisions. Following are highlights of the Senate bill:
- For law enforcement funding and police corps and officer training, the bill proposes $1 billion in aid to state and local law enforcement agencies, $700 million to fund construction of 10 regional prisons for violent drug offenders, $350 million for federal law enforcement, and $300 million for areas with high drug problems.
- The bill institutes a waiting period of five days for a handgun purchase, within which time local police must run a background check on the gun purchaser. Also, $100 million would be allotted to assist the states in computerizing their records. The goal is to create an instant check system within two and a half years to replace the waiting period. In order for the instant check system to be instituted, the U.S. Attorney General must certify that a national system has access to the last five years of the states' records and that 80% of the records are current. If within six years a state does not attain certification, its federal law enforcement funding will be cut in half.
- The act bans the sale of nine types of semiautomatic assault style weapons. Among these are the Norinco, Action Arms Israeli Military Industry's UZI and Galil, and the Beretta AR-70. Under this legislation if a weapon of this kind is used in a crime, the defendant would receive an extra 10 years in prison.
- The bill authorizes the death penalty for over 50 federal offenses and explains the procedures for its institution. A court would hold a post-conviction hearing to analyze the mitigating and aggravating factors which justify the need for capital punishment. These factors might include: the impaired capacity of the defendant, previous convictions, and the nature of the murder. The bill also establishes approximately 25 additional capital offenses. One of the Bush-supported amendments which passed the Senate authorizes capital punishment for operators of major drug enterprises even if no murder is involved. Other amendments which were added to the bill include the imposition of the death penalty for murder committed with a firearm bought through interstate commerce and any intentional murder committed in the District of Columbia in a drug-related crime.
- The legislation severely restricts the use of habeas corpus appeals to delay execution. If a federal judge asserts that the state hearing upholding the death penalty was fair, successive claims are not allowed.
- Ten military-style camps will be constructed for youths under the age of 25 convicted of drug-related state or federal crimes. The boot camps are designed to provide discipline, physical training, remedial education, and treatment for substance abuse.
- A police officer's bill of rights will be instituted to provide standards for internal investigations. This bill protects the officers and assures them of a full hearing on each complaint.
- The bill establishes harsher penalties for crimes involving children, mandating a minimum prison term of ten years for distributing illegal drugs to minors or using minors to sell drugs. A second conviction on either offense warrants life imprisonment.
- The bill authorizes a "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule. Evidence seized by an officer relying in good faith on a warrant later discovered to be defective may be admitted in court.
The next step in the completion of the Violent Crime Control Act of 1991 is its passage by the House of Representatives.
The above information is derived from a briefing released by the Criminal Justice Statistics Association, Inc.; it is reprinted with the permission of CJSA.